“Branding” is a hot word right now and I'm seeing it applied all over the place to describe a variety of different things.
Depending on who you are talking to branding can mean:
How do I brand myself
How to brand your website
How to create a brand through photography
How to create a brand through awareness
For example, when I say “branding” I’m usually talking about the voice you use when writing blog posts, the types of things you share on social media, the general feel of your website, and the experience your customers get from working with you:
I’m a marketing person, so when I talk about branding, I’m talking about it from an overall marketing perspective.
If you look at branding as “how the world sees you”, you’ll see it can pertain to almost anything in your business. Which can be overwhelming at first, but also valuable for finding ways to make your overall brand stronger because lots of little things add up.
Branding and graphics
Take a look at this Target ad, for example.
You know Target, right? The red and white bulls-eye? Watch the video and look for all the ways they are incorporating their colors and circles. Notice how there are no hard edges? Everything has a rounded feel to it. Would that ad be as effective and as immediately identifiable as “Target” if it was filled with hard-edged blue and orange rectangles? Or if every time you saw a Target ad, the colors and fonts were different?
Or, if you feel like getting a little nostalgic, take a look at how 25 brand logos have evolved over time. The next time you see an ad for one of those companies, notice how the colors and fonts generally remain similar across all platforms.
Emily at Fresh Paper focuses on showing entrepreneurs how to make the most out of their visual branding, even without a logo. I chatted with about her class a few month's ago for a blog post. You can read it here.
In her class, Emily covers things like fonts, colors, and consistent graphics with a focus towards truly representing your business and helping attract your ideal customers – which is something I hadn’t considered before meeting her. Obviously, I knew the visual aspects of branding were important, but hearing her talk about them in depth made me realize how vital and enduring the visual side of branding could be.
Branding and Business Cards
Business cards are the workhorses of marketing. Almost everyone needs them, and they do their job admirably. But today’s business cards can go beyond name, address, and phone number.
My first set of business cards came from Vista Print. I wasn't quite sure what I needed, but I knew I needed business cards. So I found a design I liked, entered my information, and received a box of business cards. I didn't love them, but who loves business cards?
About six months ago, I realized I'd grown, my business had grown, and my business cards weren't going to work for me anymore. So I went with Moo because I'd heard amazing things about their quality and service.
I adore my business cards now. They are fun, eye-catching, and represent how I approach my work (with humor and fun). And that "Yay!" sticker actually comes on the box of Moo cards.
I have seven different designs on the back of my business cards. I could have had 12 individual designs, but I decided to only use the ones that spoke to me.
The little orange monster and the quote "That's why we're here - to make a dent in the universe" is what made me fall in love with this set. Why? Well, first, I believe that. Second, I'm a huge Doctor Who fan, and that sounds like something Ten would say.
I love the cards Emily designed for Selena Maestas (Love You More Project). Round business cards!
If you look at Selena's site, you'll notice the colors and fonts are the same. The experience is seamless between the online world and the physical world.
Branding and photography
For many modern online entrepreneurs, our faces and personalities become a part of our brand. This can be uncomfortable, and forces many of us out of our comfort zone. But it is also important to remember that as humans we connect with faces, and seeing a friendly face can immediately build trust.
While it can be free or extremely inexpensive to have a friend or family member take some quick photos with their smart phone or basic camera, investing in good quality head shots is important if creating trust and connection is part of your business. People want to purchase from people they trust, and a clear, inviting photo shouldn’t be overlooked.
Professional head shots used to be limited to boring photos against a plain backdrop, but that isn’t the case any longer. Today, head shots can be done indoors or outdoors, and against a variety of backdrops. Mine were taken by Shayne Berry at Portland’s Cathedral Park in the rain. Luckily, the bridge provides perfect cover, and it is a popular destination for all kinds of photography!
Julie of Traveling Julie Portraits photographs not only fresh, modern head shots, but also “in action” photos of her clients at their place of business. This means, not only is there a basic head shot, but also images that show off the business and their brand in action.
Annika Bielig Bussmann focuses exclusively on female entrepreneurs and helping them create their branding via photography.
Normally, you don't get to see side by side head shots of the same person taken by two different photographers, but Emily happens to have been photographed by the two photographers I mentioned above. So you get to see side-by-side examples!
Clearly, both Julie and Annika capture Emily's personality and sense of style. When it comes to choosing a photographer for your head shots, choose someone you feel comfortable working with and who understands the look and feel you are looking for in your photographs.
Branding and Your Website
My first website was a mess.
It didn't reflect who I was or the type of clients I wanted to work with. I'm always revising and refining my work, so it makes sense that my website has gone through a few (OK, more than a few) face lifts.
I tried kind of a flower/garden idea for awhile (it seemed like a good idea at the time).
Then I tried something super modern. It looked pretty and utterly unlike me.
Right now, I love the look of my website, but at some point I know I'll evolve and it will need updating (again).
When you are thinking about your branding and your website, think about the business you have now and where you want it to go. Think about your customers/clients and how your website can help you connect with them. Think about the overall feel you want your clients to have when working with you.
Need inspiration? Go look at the websites I've linked to throughout this post. Each is a fabulous example of lovely websites coupled with their personalities and who they want to work with as businesses.
Your Brand and Change
One thing you may have noticed that has come up over and over in this post is evolution. Your brand and your focus will likely change. That is completely OK and normal. Those first business cards, websites, and elevator pitches are just the beginning.
You'll change direction. You'll grow into some things and outgrow others. You'll discover a new path that is even more exciting than the last.
Have fun with it!
If you receive free products for review, you're going to want to read this and make sure your links to products you review are set as "no follow".
What are "no follow" links?
This tells Google (and other search engines) not to pass on "link juice" (which is like reputation, energy, and recommendation all rolled into one) from your website to the website you are linking to.
Why does it matter?
Google's ultimate goal is to give users the best experience possible (which makes them valuable and useful and makes them lots of money). Which means - if someone is giving you a product with the hope that you'll give a link to their site...this stops that. This has been an unofficial "best practice" for awhile.
Why do links matter?
Google used to rely heavily on words (and we've all read terrible blog posts that stuff a phase into sentences over and over!). Now they rely on lots of things including: words, phrases, other on-site things, and off-site things (like links back to your site).
It used to be that lots & lots & lots of links to your site meant that your site probably had good information and was something users would want to see.
But...when everyone catches on to that....it gets exploited and and link farms (pay us $50/month and we'll give you 300 links to your site) and crappy, random guest blogging happens.
How did it work?
Product A sends samples to 500 bloggers to review their product.
The bloggers do their thing and dutifully link back to Product A's website.
This makes it look as if Product A is suddenly much more useful and valuable than maybe it actually was.
In addition to that, let's say 85% of those 500 bloggers are just in it for free stuff, so their review isn't great, their copy isn't helpful, and overall it drags down the usefulness of Google search (because the algorithm is being misled by all of those links).
So this is Google's official "don't do that" warning.
Musings about marketing, social media, and small business.